“I’ve only had one audition my whole life, you know. What actor can make that assertion?” – Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy‘s recent return to host Saturday Night Live — his first appearance on the program that helped make him a superstar since exiting the show in 1984 — was the type of television event that rarely happens in today’s environment saturated with media options. In addition to giving Murphy the opportunity to reprise some of his most beloved SNL characters, it also gave the Oscar-nominated actor time to reflect on how he became a cast member of the legacy comedy series. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Murphy recalls how his audition proceeded for the series — which, incidentally, was the only audition in his entire career.
Murphy admits that there is one aspect of his career that separates him from most other actors who have reached his level of success: he has had only one audition in his entire career. He reveals, “I’ve only had one audition my whole life, you know. What actor can make that assertion? … Yeah, nobody, and no matter how great they are, they’ve been on auditions. I’ve had one audition. It was SNL.”
Of course, that one audition changed his entire life, so it remains memorable. Murphy remembers that he didn’t have much experience, saying, “I started doing stand-up when I was 15, so I got like three years before I get that audition. The first audition is literally a guy sitting in a room by himself, and he just says, ‘Make me laugh.’ Well, that would be daunting to most people, but because I had been doing stand-up I had 15 to 20 minutes of an act. I was used to going up late at night at the Comic Strip. When you’re a young comic you don’t get good spots, so you’re going up in front of five or six people anyway.”
Regarding what he did at his audition, Murphy reveals that he did his best impressions — and that his audience of one had a surprising reaction. He says, “I did Jimmy Carter, back then I was doing him. I did Muhammad Ali, and Howie Cosell, and Bill Cosby. So all that stuff was in my little five-minute audition. He didn’t laugh at anything. I was just doing it, he was just sitting there watching me, and looking me up and down. After I did all my shit, he was like, ‘Thank you.’”
Despite that reaction — or lack thereof — Murphy received a callback. Several of them, in fact. He continues, “I thought, I didn’t get it. Then they called me back a couple of weeks later, and it was two people in the room, and they said: ‘Make us laugh.’ I did the same thing—nobody laughed. Then it was three people in the room, and they said, ‘Make us laugh,’ and one guy kind of giggled a little bit. Then they brought me back to this big audition, and it was me and like maybe 10 other guys that had gotten to that level, and we had to read with the cast members. I read with [Joe] Piscopo—the sketch that I had seen Richard Pryor do when he hosted the show with Chevy Chase.”
Luckily for Murphy, he was extremely familiar with that particular sketch. He says, “I had seen that sketch a bunch of times. So it was like, This is my audition? [Laughs.] I didn’t even need the paper! Did it. Crushed it. And got the show.”